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Alfalfa - Medicago sativa L.

Alfalfa is known as “Nature’s sunshine food” because it contains quantifiable Vitamin D!

Alfalfa probably originated in the Mediterranean Sea, but has since become one of the most commonly cultivated herbs globally. Alfalfa is actually a legume, but the plant and seeds are used medicinally as herbal medicine. (1)

The word “alfalfa” dates back to 1845, from Spanish alfalfa, earlier alfalfez, from Arabic al-fisfisa "fresh fodder." (2)

Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae ⁄ Leguminosae – Pea family
Genus: Medicago L. – alfalfa
Species: Medicago sativa L. – alfalfa

Other names this plant may be known by are:
In Chinese it is called zi mu.
Other names:
Buffalo Grass
Buffalo Herb
Chilean Clover
Purple Medick
Purple Medicle

Alfalfa is grown mostly as fodder for livestock, for that reason most of the nutritional profiles are slanted towards nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content. However these nutritional profiles can still provide us as caregivers for exotic birds some insight as to the nutrition our birds might be receiving from this beneficial “tender green.”

Alfalfa is known for its protein content, even though there are other grasses that are actually higher in protein. However, alfalfa is easy to grow withstanding many adverse conditions and adapting to many soil types and weather conditions which makes it both hearty and economical. In addition, alfalfa actually improves the soil in which it is grown in contributing beneficial bacteria as a natural amendment to the soil.

The general nutritional profile of alfalfa per 100 grams is:

Protein: 5.2 grams
Moisture: 80.0%
Fat: 0.9 grams
Fiber: 3.5 grams
Ash: 2.4 grams
For those who do not understand “ash” content, it gives the basic, overall mineral composition of any given food, or combination of ingredients in a processed or mixed food.

In addition, and a very important point for those of us who are extremely concerned about our companion avian friends receiving Vitamin D3, alfalfa contains a scientifically quantifiable amount of Vitamin D3. (6)

A 2000lb (one ton) crop of medicago sativa, regardless whether it is early bloom (cut 1) or late bloom (cut 3) provides on average 71.20% to 76.10% N, P, K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). (7)

Tender, young alfalfa sprouts seem to contain higher naturally occurring nitrates than some other microgreens and other plant matter. Although all microgreens contain higher levels of nitrates than mature plant matter. You may be asking “What is the problem with naturally occurring nitrates?” biological processes in the body turn nitrates (NO3) into nitrites (NO2) which then produces nitric oxide. High nitrate levels prevent conversion of methemoglobin to hemoglobin. Two things can happen when this occurs, a type of hyperactivity of the cardiovascular system can potentially occur causing a sudden heart attack, or to a lesser degree more blood pumping through veins and arteries causing flushing and pink skin. This can actually trigger more picking and plucking in feather destroyers.

In order for a living creature to process high nitrate levels an abundance of carbohydrates must be present in the system at the same time the nitrates are consumed. This is probably one of the reasons why Nature created exotic birds to consume such a high volume of tropical fruits high in monosaccharides. Now that we are learning just what foods exotic birds consume in their wild, indigenous habitats, an abundance of tropical fruit high in carbohydrates and tender, young greens high in nitrates both of which give them plenty of nitric oxide to take to quick flight, and to fly long distances, their frugivore/herbivore diets are beginning to make perfect sense!

What is the bottom line regarding feeding high nitrate tender microgreens to our captive exotic birds? In my opinion if we are going to do so microgreens need to be paired with an abundance of tropical fruits each and every time we offer tender greens so that the nitrates are properly processed by our birds’ metabolic system without turning into harmful NO2 which prevents the production of healthy hemoglobin. (8)

I prefer to use alfalfa as a mature green using mostly the leaves of the plant. Once the plant has reached early bloom phase the potential danger of high nitrate concentration is greatly reduced. (9)

The measurement of salicylates in alfalfa is very high. (10)

I insert the level of salicylates here due to the fact I have found this naturally occurring food constituent/food chemical triggers barbering, cutting, picking, plucking, and self-mutilation in birds who engage in feather destruction. I have even witnessed salicylates causing anaphylactic shock in certain birds. When too many foods containing high amounts of salicylates are feed to any given bird “stacking” these foods can cause a cascade of health problems including, but not limited to itching, picking, plucking, barbering, self-mutilation, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, seizures, lethargy, internal hemorrhaging, and even death. Many OTC (over-the-counter avian remedies contain laboratory-produced salicylates as buffers, fillers, thickeners and extenders). “Salic acid”, which is the base of salicylates, is the primary ingredient in aspirin obtained from the Willow Tree, but all plant matter contains this naturally occurring constituent to differing degrees, some very high to others at lower amounts. Simply stated salic acid is a blood thinner.

Alfalfa is a good all-around base to any companion bird’s diet. I would rather use alfalfa as a base opposed to the cooked grain bases many commercial bird food manufacturer’s use in their highly processed pelleted formulas. Exotic birds are first and foremost frugivorous/herbivorous consuming an abundance of grains only as pets who have been forced into domestication. Their systems are not physically or metabolically equipped to process high volumes of grain-based foods, let alone highly processed grains that have not been sprouted to contain living nutrients. Alfalfa leaf and microgreens as well as alfalfa powder provide a rich source of carbohydrate (fiber), a tremendous amount of Vitamin A, a relatively good amount of plant protein, and a good start on trace minerals for the overall nutritional profile. Knowing that alfalfa contains a quantifiable amount of Vitamin D3 caps this food source off as a “required” ingredient in any captive exotic bird’s diet.

Alfalfa Seeds, sprouted, raw
Based on a 28 gram serving:
Calories 6.4
From Carbohydrate 2.1
From Fat 1.6
Protein 1.1g
Vitamin A 43.4IU
Vitamin C 2.3mg
Vitamin K 8.5mcg
Niacin 0.1mg
Folate 10.1mcg
Pantothenic Acid 0.2mg
Choline 4.0mg
Calcium 9.0mg
Iron 0.3mg
Magnesium 7.6mg
Phosphorus 19.6mg
Potassium 22.1mg
Sodium 1.7mg
Zinc 0.3mg
Copper 0.0mg
Manganese 0.1mg
Selenium 0.2mcg

Alfalfa does have hormone-producing properties. Alfalfa contains four isoflavones; daidzein, formononetin, genistein, and biochanin A, all contributing to estrogenic-like producing responses. It is for this reason I use alfalfa in moderation in all of the bird foods I formulate. (12)

I do not sprout alfalfa seed and feed it to my birds due to the potentially toxic amino acid “canavanine.” Both alfalfa and red clover seed are known to produce this toxin in very young, immature sprouts. While this toxin is relatively harmless to larger creatures, small creatures may potentially experience liver damage that may not present itself until later years as the toxin slowly builds in their liver. It is best to sprout alfalfa until it reaches the microgreen stage, about 2 to 3 inches in height and at least until the cotyledonstage where at least two leaves are present to ensure canavanine is no longer present in the tender green.

Many will say that canavanine is harmless, and this is true…for mammals, but our exotic birds are not mammals, they are aves and a very special class of aves that do not produce certain digestive enzymes in their salvia (which they produce little of in the first place) such as amylase, and also cellulase and African Greys do not produce chitinase. In addition exotic birds do not have the blind-ended organ known as the “cecum” that aids in the breaking down of cellulose. So as we can see our birds, being of the class of aves, and being much smaller than most mammals probably cannot process canavanine in the same manner as we do. Here is an informative article regarding naturally occurring toxins in foods. Please note while reading this article that it slants towards the harmlessness in consuming canavanine, but remember what you just read above about our exotic birds.Natural Toxins in Sprouted Seeds: Separating Myth from Reality

ORAC Values:
USDA’s statement regarding the ORAC value:
Personally I believe this statement is “bunk” and I believe the antioxidant properties in foods do matter.
And of course here the USDA is contradicting themselves only years earlier:
For this reason I will supply the ORAC value of each food, herb and spice when available.
Total ORAC value of alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw: 1510. (13)

Happy foraging!

Ref: (1); (2); (3); (4); (5); (6); (7); (8); (9); (10); (11); (12); (13)

©3.18.16   Machelle Pacion   Passion Tree House LLC   All Rights Reserved

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